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Monroe man receives gold medal for excellence in nuclear medical physics

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MONROE — Three things helped Ralph Lieto of Monroe be successful in his career: serendipity, timely mentoring and willingness.

“My success has been being in the right place at the right time, having the guidance of trusted mentors early in my career and the willingness to be involved and become active in organizations and societies without regard to getting recognized for future awards,” Lieto said.

The 74-year-old Monroe resident was recently recognized for 40 years of American College of Radiology membership and awarded the Michigan Radiological Society’s Gold Medal Award for excellence as a nuclear medical physicist and radiation safety officer. The award is perhaps the pinnacle of his extensive career.

After graduating from Monroe Catholic Central High School in 1968, Lieto earned Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in nuclear engineering at the University of Michigan. He credits Glen Knoll, University of Michigan professor emeritus of nuclear engineering and radiological science, as his inspiration.

“I had originally had an interest in chemistry and then engineering before deciding on nuclear engineering,” he said. “His required course in nuclear detection piqued my interest.”

After graduation, Lieto was accepted into the radiological physics residency at Henry Ford Hospital. He became an expert in nuclear medicine and medical radiation safety and for more than 40 years served as a medical physicist and radiation safety officer for Henry Ford Hospital System and for St. Joseph Mercy Health System, where he worked 17 years before retiring.

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As radiation safety officer, he had daily responsibility for the areas using radioactive materials and radiation machines for diagnosis, therapy and research.

As Lieto reflects over his career, he talks about advances in technology and recalls when Henry Ford Hospital was the only hospital in the country to have access to a computerized tomography scan (CT scan). The MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) was still under research.

“Technological advances and computers have been some of the most significant changes in radiology as a field,” he said. “When I was a graduate student, I was still using a slide rule. I sometimes have to explain what it is, but it helped put a man on the moon.”

Some of Lieto’s most memorable moments include two fellowships with the American College of Radiology (ACR) and American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM). With the recommendation of the ACR and AAPM, he was appointed to serve as the nuclear medicine physicist member of the advisory committee of the Medical Uses of Isotopes for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for two four-year terms.

In 2021, Lieto was elected president of the Michigan Radiological Society (MRS).

“I am incredibly proud to be the first non-physician president of the Michigan Radiological Society in their 100-year history,” he said.

His extensive career also includes being a diplomate of the American Board of Radiology and the American Board of Science in Nuclear Medicine and his teaching experience includes nuclear medicine and radiology technologists, radiology residents and an adjunct appointment in the medical physics program at the Wayne State University Medical School.

Earlier this month, Lieto was given the Michigan Radiological Society’s Gold Medal Award, an honor he is humbled to receive and is trying to decide where he’ll place in his home.

“I think it will go on top of a cabinet in the dining room next to my daughter’s awards,” he said.

Despite being retired, Lieto remains active with the Michigan Radiological Society and the American College of Radiology and enjoys spending time with his family.

He has been married to Donna for 50 years and together they have three children — Paul, Daniel and Stephanie — and five grandchildren — Seth, Nick, Kaleigh, Tristan and Luke.

He said Donna is the real reason he’s had a successful career, saying she’s the glue that’s kept their family together.

— Contact reporter Lisa Vidaurri-Bowling at lvidaurribowling@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on The Monroe News: Monroe man honored for excellence in nuclear medicine

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